With the NFL Draft now under two months away, here is my first big board. Let’s get into it…
1. Leonard Williams, DT,USC
Who?: Quite simply the best player in the entire draft, Leonard Williams has the size, athleticism and raw power you want from the leader of your defense. He has great technique and he’s going to be the anchor on a team’s defense for the next 10 years. He can play anywhere along the defensive line, and the hope is that he continues to display the same consistency he displayed at USC at the next level.
Pro Comparison: JJ Watt Light
Who?: He is the best pure pass rusher in the draft, with an explosive first step. There are concerns of his ability to play the run, but I don’t think he’s as bad as some scouts say he is. His issues stopping the run aren’t effort based, but more technique based as he goes too high against blockers.
Pro Comparison: Von Miller
3. Dante Fowler, Jr., OLB, Florida
Who?: Incredibly versatile OLB who lined up all over the defensive line for the Florida Gators, Fowler also did very well for himself in coverage. He struggles with play recognition a little bit, but is incredibly athletic and deceptively powerful. The best way to describe him is that he’s a pest to block.
Pro Comparison: Terrell Suggs
4. Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
Who?: Athletic linebacker that fits what defense coordinators are looking for, Thompson might end up being the best OLB in this draft when you look back on it in 5 years. Some teams project him as a safety, but that would be a mistake. Thompson will excel in a 4-3 alignment because of his ability to cover and how athletic he is. He could theoretically bulk up a bit, but you’d be robbing him of his athleticism by doing that.
Pro Comparison: Cameron Wake
5. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Who?: I thought the former Heisman Trophy winner would hurt his stock when he returned to Florida State, but here he is likely to be the number one pick in the draft. Winston is the prototypical QB, with the ability to make every throw. He’s mobile enough to evade the pass rush, but has a knack for keeping his eyes down field regardless of what’s going on around him.
Pro Comparison: Ben Roethlisberger
Who? Hands down the best defensive back in the draft, Peters’ stock is hurt because of character concerns only. However, he has shown maturity in owning his mistakes and apologizing to his coach. Peters has incredible length, is a ball hawk, and excels in man to man coverage. He’s physical and combines that physicality with great agility.
Pro Comparison: Richard Sherman
7. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
Who? The best WR in the draft is the 6’3″ 215 pound former Mountaineer. White possesses quick feet and good vision after the catch. White also showcased his ability to create with the ball in his hands. He is a match-up nightmare at 6’3″ and he knows how to use his size. He’s an extremely physical wide receiver, and wins at the point of attack.
Pro Comparison: Anquan Boldin/Julio Jones
8. La’El Collins, OT, LSU
Who? Collins is a mauler, and has separated himself from all the other offensive linemen. Collins is the only OL I’d feel comfortable taking in the top 10. He is quick off the snap, and he gets to the second level consistently. He is aggressive, and does not hesitate to engage defenders. He can have an impact similar to Zach Martin with the Dallas Cowboys last year.
Pro Comparison: Carl Nicks
9. Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
Who? Collins is good in space and excellent in run support. His ability to play the deep cover safety role in a Cover One defense is underrated because he dropped ALOT of interceptions, but he was almost always in the right place to make those interceptions.
Pro Comparison: TJ Ward
Who? There will be an adjustment period for the Heisman Trophy winner if he ends up anywhere except Philadelphia, but Mariota could turn out to be a very good pro prospect. He is accurate, decisive, mobile, and displays a nice touch on short passes. My one knock against Mariota is that he struggles with making the deep throws. This is something he’s going to have to improve upon at the next level.
Pro Comparison: Alex Smith
11. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Who? Cooper possesses excellent quickness and is able to easily get a clean release against press coverage. Cooper can also make defenders miss in space. He’s a very underrated blocker as well. He dropped way too many passes, some of them very easy, and I worry about how that lack of concentration translates to the pro level.
Pro Comparison: Roddy White
12. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Who? Peat is a finesse blocker, for sure. For a man his size, he is incredibly athletic. He demonstrated the ability to get to the second level of a defense. However, he is not as good a run blocker as he should be. He has a tendency to get very lazy, and he sometimes stays too high in his stance to get the adequate push he needs.
Pro Comparison: D’Brickashaw Ferguson
13. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
Who? Scherff has good hand placement and is a phenomenal drive blocker. He is also a very good pass blocker. Whereas Peat doesn’t utilize his strength like he should, Scherff sometimes only uses his strength. This gets him in trouble with speed rushers who use his aggressiveness against him.
Pro Comparison: Evan Mathis
14. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
Who? While not the fastest wide receiver in the draft, Strong is going to make a team very happy because of his ability in the red zone to win jump balls and out muscle defensive backs. Strong, like Cooper, struggles with drops and it seems to come form a lack of focus. Strong, also, has a bad habit of tipping his routes. Defensive backs will sit on this in the NFL, so he needs to refine his route running.
Pro Comparison: Plaxico Burress
15. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Who? Gurley, had he not been injured, would’ve been a lock in round one. He is the best running back in the draft and the only one worthy of a first round pick, in my opinion. He is light on his feet, initiates contact, and does not hesitate to run through defenders instead of running around them. The torn ACL is a concern, but if his knee checks out he’ll be the first running back taken.
Pro Comparison: Marshawn Lynch
16. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
Who? The former Cardinal might be the best route runner in the draft, and I think he will be the draft’s best wide receiver when we look back in a few years. I think Parker will have the easiest transition to the NFL because of his aforementioned route running ability, his speed, his quickness, and his ability to make the tough catches. He is a physical wide receiver, and uses his size well.
Pro Comparison: AJ Green
17. Alvin Dupree, DE, Kentucky
Who? One of the better pure pass rushers in the draft, Dupree is a favorite of mine because of his combination of physical talent and ability. I rank him behind Vic Beasley in this draft in terms of pure pass rushing ability. The reason he’s not higher is because he does struggle tremendously in run support. He also has a tendency to use his speed against more powerful offensive linemen and he ends up entirely out of position on those plays because of the bad angle that was taken.
Pro Comparison: Jason Babin
18. Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Who? Very good edge rusher who possesses a very good first step, Gregory was being talked about midseason as a potential number one pick overall. I have him as the 18th best player in this draft, and I do think he has been a tad overrated. He is fast off the edge and possesses both a deadly swim and spin move. However, he isn’t very strong and he (like Dupree and Beasley) struggle tremendously against the run.
Pro Comparison: Aldon Smith
19. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Who? Ray is an incredible athlete, hence his pro comparison below. I worry about whether he will ever be more than a situational pass rusher though. He has a great first step, but he relies on his athleticism only. There is minimal technique, and guys like that tend to flame out a lot quicker than others (see Aaron Maybin). However, because he is such a tremendous athlete he is going to be overdrafted.
Pro Comparison: Bruce Irvin
20. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
Who? DGB is a beast physically, and you don’t see receivers with his size, speed, balance, and ability come around too often. He is incredibly physical, and demonstrates an ability to swat defensive backs away when they try to get physical with him. He does run lazy routes, and lacks focus. If he had none of these issues, along with the character concerns that are following him, he’d be the first WR taken based off of his physical abilities alone.
Pro Comparison: Julio Jones
21. Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Who? Danny Shelton is a beast in the middle of a defensive line. Shelton possesses a very effective bull rush. He’s very good at both stopping the run and rushing the passer. Shelton does a great job at getting his hands up to try and bat down passes or impact a QB’s vision. The one part of his game that he should improve is his awareness on cut blocks, but that should come with coaching at the next level.
Pro Comparison: Gerald McCoy
22. Justin Hardy, WR, East Carolina
Who? Whereas DGB gets noticed for his physicality, Justin Hardy is just a very good wide receiver. Hardy is a very good route runner who gets in and out of his cuts very quickly. He’s not a burner per say, and he can be caught from behind. However, you may not find a more skilled route runner in the draft.
Pro Comparison: Santonio Holmes
23. Eric Kendricks, ILB, UCLA
Who? Kendricks is being severely overlooked in this draft and is a good candidate to fall into the second round despite being clearly a top 25 player in this draft and the best inside linebacker. Instinctive, aggressive, and a leader in the middle of a team’s defense Kendricks has the chance to be a defensive player of the year in due time. He’s that good. He’s a good pass rusher and can cover. He could gain a couple of pounds and increase his run stopping ability, but you can scheme around his deficiencies against the run by having a stout defensive line in front of him.
Pro Comparison: Navarro Bowman
24. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
Who? Clemmings is a prospect that can play either left tackle or right tackle and be effective. He is a finesse blocker and is very athletic. He struggles with hand placement at times, but his long arms allow him to not get beat as often as he probably should be. Clemmings has good footwork and he has great technique.
Pro Comparison: Bryant McKinnie
25. Cameron Erving, C, Florida State
Who? Erving was the leader of the Seminoles offensive line tasked with protecting EJ Manuel as a left tackle and then transitioned to center and was responsible for ensuring that Jameis Winston was kept upright. Erving is incredibly versatile, durable, and is very light on his feet. He has good footwork, but it is inconsistent, and that’s something he’s going to have to clean up at the next level.
Pro Comparison: Max Unger
26. Malcolm Brown, DT, Texas
Who? Brown is quick off the ball, and this is impressive considering how big he is. He is a very good anchor, but does struggle with his technique. For a man his size, he utilizes his agility way more than his strength and this allows him to be knocked back by offensive linemen. He can play in either a 3-4 or a 4-3, and this versatility will allow him to go higher than he probably should.
Pro Comparison: Arthur Jones
27. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Who? Arguably the fastest wide receiver in this loaded class, Coates is essentially a deep threat. He’s big and fast with long arms and track speed. He tracks the ball really well over his shoulder. Coates can either run away from you or initiate contact and break away from you in that manner. He plays with a swagger as well, and you like to see WRs with that kind of attitude.
Pro Comparison: DeSean Jackson
28. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
Who? Flowers shows quickness and balance in getting to the second level when run blocking. He is as good a run blocker as a pass blocker, but he struggles with consistency. He also struggles with speed rushers, and this is a concern for a guy projected to protect your QB’s blindside.
Pro Comparison: Andrew Whitworth
29. A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina
Who? Cann is incredibly strong and has no problem moving defensive linemen off of their spots. He has long arms and he uses those adequately to keep defenders at bay. He has great instincts, and is able to set his feet and return to his stance even after the initial pressure.
Pro Comparison: Zach Martin
30. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Who? The only other QB with a first round grade from me, the former Bruin has a strong arm with an easy throwing motion. He has size, athleticism, and can make all the downfield throws better than Marcus Mariota. What he struggles with is the consistency in the footwork and his anticipation in the pocket. If drafted into the right situation, he can be as good as he wants to be. He has to improve from the pocket though.
Pro Comparison: Colin Kaepernick